HAUNT ME ALWAYS

 

Chapter 1

I manage to push the coin off the table, my fingers barely nicking the coin’s edges. It falls on the gray carpet with a tiny thud.

“Ha!”

A curl of elation runs through my gut but then a heavy cloak of fatigue falls over me. For the next few hours…or days, I’m lost.

The next thing I’m aware of is a soft moan. “Ash,” the man who calls himself Ben whispers.

The room is dark. He is asleep. He always calls out for ash in his sleep. I am stuck to this house, but when he goes out—which isn’t often—I’m able to follow. ‘Ash’ appears to be the remnants of the fire, like the one he uses to burn up the dead leaves that litter the backyard. I’m not sure why he calls for the sooty dust that seems to make him cough. Maybe he means something else by it, but I can’t be sure.

He looks…sad. That is a word that means not happy. I wonder how I know that, how I know the other things I seem to. I float over to his side, brush the tip of my fingers over his forehead. When I focus intensely, light glimmers in my nails and I can almost feel him.

He twitches.

It worked!

I’ll have to try it again when he is awake. I should probably be bored being around him all the time, but I’m not. For some reason, I ache to touch the man.

Not a possibility.

Once I tried to hug him—only to pass through his tall, muscle-bound form like air. I’m invisible, untouchable.

However, despite the fact that no mirror shows my reflection, I can see myself. From my long brown hair and short, but curvy body, I’ve decided that I’m female. Though female ‘what’ begs the question—phantom? spirit?

Definitely not human though.

Granted, I’m dressed like one, in a fuzzy green top, legs covered in a tough-looking dark blue material similar to what Ben wears and boots, I think they’re called, the only jewelry on me a chain with a heart shaped pendant and a ring on my left hand. Although I keep trying, I’m unable to inspect either of them properly. Maybe if I keep working on grasping things with my fingertips, I’ll be able to scrutinize them for clues.

I itch to touch them and explore. Something tells me I’m more familiar with jewelry than I can remember right now.

I hear a sound and whiz down to the foyer to investigate.

A key turns in the lock. The door silently opens. A woman in a white coat enters, an odd aura shimmering around her, like a glowy-green mist. Some would call it beautiful, but the word that springs to my mind is—toxic.

She shouldn’t be here. Somehow I know that.

I follow as she searches the rooms downstairs. She is elegant, striking, and raven-haired, with a singular white lock of hair at her left temple and doesn’t seem to need illumination to see in the dark, unlike the man sleeping upstairs. As she pokes around, her manner is not that of a stranger but of one quite familiar with the house.

A small frustrated sigh escapes her. She doesn’t find what she is looking for. Quicker than I expected, she creeps up the carpeted steps.

Danger, my instincts whisper. If I had a heart, it would be pounding. I slip up through the roof and yank at Ben’s hair. Hard.

With a mumbled gasp, he jerks up in bed. “Hell.” He says something else but I have no time to spare. I dart to the top of the stairs and she’s already halfway up.

The light on the landing comes on and Ben stumbles out.

“Helen?” he asks disbelievingly. “I can’t believe you had the nerve to show your face after what you did to Ash.”

The woman barely blinks. “Where is it?” she asks casually and surveys him, her gaze lingering on his left ring finger.

“Jesus! Even after killing my wife—a pregnant lady!—you still want to follow through with your scheme?” He shakes his head and holds up the device he calls a ‘phone’. “I pressed the stop button a long time ago, Helen, you know this. You should leave. I called your coven, they’re probably on their way.”

They talk some more but I don’t hear.

I hunch over as an unbearable surge of grief runs through me. Ash was not a thing, she was a woman, with a child on the way.

Why do I feel such pain for some random dead woman?

Is it a coincidence that she lived here and I am tied to this place?

Am I Ash?

My shaking hands go wonderingly to my abdomen. I can feel the remnant flickers of a tiny life force that used to rest in there. A sudden, wrenching loss makes me ache and I want to wail, to break down.

An icy calm grips me. If I was Ash, that makes Helen my killer, my baby’s killer. I flick my gaze up, eyes narrowed. She’s almost reached Ben and is smirking at the gun he’s now pointing at her. “That won’t kill me, you know,” she says as if she is bored and waves a hand. Out of nowhere a green orb of light slams into Ben and he sprawls on the ground with a curse.

A gunshot pierces the air.

The impact rocks Helen back, and she clutches her chest,her aura flickering from green to the brightest of reds. Blood leaks out from between her fingers. “Good aim, Ben, but you’ll have to do better. It is time to pay up.” His wedding ring slips off his finger and drifts towards her. I tilt my head. It is silver with a yellow gemstone adorning it and has an aura that reeks of power.

She grabs it.

“Ta-ta Ben.” When Helen goes to wave her other hand at Ben, fury rips through me. I rush towards her and with all my energy shove at her chest. The tips of my fingers glow so bright, I blink. For an instant she looks surprised. Then she falls.

With heavy thumps, she tumbles down the stairs and comes to rest at the bottom, a panting, disheveled mess. Her hip and arm look dislocated, but the woman is still conscious.

“What the fuck was that?” she exclaims, when the door splinters open and a bunch of people in weird-looking clothes rush in.

“Helen, you were told you to stay away from Benito after what you did to Ash.” Someone points a staff at Helen and vines grow from it, binding her until she is immobile.

She huffs, seeming to not care about her injuries or bindings. “Ben needs to keep his word. He promised me that ring after we killed Ashley, but once he married her, he changed. If he thinks he can keep it all, the money, the heirlooms…he can, I don’t give a shit. All I want is the ring.”

Ben comes downstairs, joining the others in the living room and they start a heated discussion.

I want to stay, hear more, but I’m exhausted after my efforts. I fade out.

***

I don’t know where I am. White fog surrounds me. Cold, I’m so cold, but I don’t care.

I’m lost in a haze of shock. All this time, I wondered if I might have been stuck with Ben because he was home, because his house was possibly a last link to a man I cared for. Even though I was tethered to him, I’d liked it, liked watching him, being around him, his presence enveloping me in a nebulous sense of affection and well-being.

Clearly my instincts are shit.

I was in the home of my murderer! I can’t believe I tried to save him, feel something for him, even now.

Had I been so clueless when alive that I was taken in by the likes of him? Or was I so desperate to belong that I took him at face value? I can’t recall enough of my past to tell.

Ben or Helen, or both of them together had murdered me. For money, for some random ring.

A mix of sadness, fury and defeat engulfs me. I feel heavy, made of millions of liquid tears, but I push the feeling away.

I need to get to the bottom of what happened to me, to my baby. Something tells me that is the reason I’m still hanging around.

The ring. Tonight, Helen broke into Ben’s house to steal the ring. I frown, trying to recollect what I saw of it. It gave off an aura, like Helen did, but it was golden, majestic. Ancient.

When I materialize again in Ben’s home, I decide, I’ll explore every inch of the place for clues.

Once I have the answers…then I will know who has to pay.

 

 

Chapter 2

Streets whizz past me but my focus is on the buttons and knobs before me.

Did it!

The radio changes from playing classical music to a ponderous and mournful song, as I switch the stations for the third time this morning.

“What the fuck?!” With a scowl, Ben turns off the radio from where he sits in the driver’s seat. We’re in his car and I’m in the passenger seat, not that he notices.

In the weeks since I resurfaced, I’ve been playing these little pranks on him. Maybe it’s silly and vindictive, but I’m feeling a tad vengeful, now that I know he might have killed me in cold blood.

Though of course, I’m being careful not to be too obvious. The man clearly is acquainted with the supernatural world given he has ties to a witch coven, though I don’t think he knows too much about ghosts, if that’s what I am.

A dog hangs out of the window of a passing car, its gaze glued to me. He growls.

I ignore this—used by now to this reaction from random canines—my attention locked on to the pair of little kids sitting in the backseat. They’re singing along to a song as cartoons play out on the small screen in front of them. I smile.

Today is a good day.

I’m feeling hopeful because Ben is leaving the house for the first time that I can remember.

After I reappeared from wherever I’d been, I’d done my best to turn over the house, look through every inch.

Ben’s tablet was useful. Tapping on it took out lot out of me, but I’d managed to unearth some history.

Ben is from New Orleans, a sculptor of some repute. Sculpting is his main source of income and he has clients from all around the country, including a handful of international clients. An article dated two years ago comments on his marriage to an Ashley North, the granddaughter of a noted antique collector. Another mentions her death in a car accident six months ago. When I look up Ashley, a few pictures of an unsmiling brunette of medium height with long brown hair, big eyes, and pleasant enough features turn up.

Looking at her images made me feel sad and achy, a sentiment that still lingers, like a cloud over my head.

It’s been weeks since then and I haven’t discovered anything else that is useful. Of course, there are books in the basement library that I haven’t explored much.

I have a reason for that.

Handling one book put me out of action for at least a few days. Assuming they contain useful information, there are so many heavy tomes that without narrowing down my search or getting other help, there is no way I can go through them all. I just don’t have enough energy for that.

As I seek information, I do my best not to notice that Ben spends most of his days steadily drinking himself into a stupor, when he isn’t on his phone or digging around in the garden.

My thoughts are dark these days and I avoid the man. Often, I find myself contemplating different ways to murder him. Last night while he was muttering in his sleep, I thought about how I could stab a sharp object into his eye. It would go straight into his brain, killing him instantly.

Killing Ben is about revenge and it is doable. But at the moment I’m not really sure about my moral compass—or if I’m supposed to have one.

I glance at Ben’s profile as he drives. His eyes are tired and sunken, but he’s still handsome, with piercing gray eyes, an aquiline nose, a square jaw, and dark, thick hair. He wears faded jeans that fit him well and a pale lavender t-shirt that showcases broad shoulders and heavy biceps, I can see why a lot of women wouldn’t mind being his wife.

The phone rings and Ben hits a button. The male speaker’s voice is loud in the car.

“Where are you? We need to ask you some questions about the soul spell. It appears it was before Estelle’s time.”

I start at the mention of the name, it rings a bell, maybe I’ve seen it around the house?

“I’m in my car, I’ll be at the coven house in twenty minutes, we can talk then.”

“See you soon.” The caller hangs up.

It’d been like this for days, cryptic short calls, which I can usually hear only one side of, at least now I have a clue. The coven, a soul spell, and someone called Estelle. Where have I heard that name?

We turn onto a tree-covered lane that I hadn’t noticed until Ben swerved right. He thumbs his wedding ring, he does that a lot. The car idles along a property with high stone walls until we reach tall steel gates that silently slide open. Ben drives through.

The next second I’m on the concrete on my ass.

“What the hell?” I mutter. I get up, and try to walk through the closing gate, but it repels me like a rubber band. I float up above the gate, the same thing happens. I circle the entire estate trying to scale the walls. It’s huge, the only property on the entire street and covered with foliage, so it’s difficult for an outsider to get a view of what’s going on inside.

I pace there mumbling to myself, when an eagle swoops down, a rat in its claws. As I watch, it rips the rat open and pecks into its meal with relish. I avert my gaze, disgusted but find myself taking a few steps closer. This eagle is free to soar the clouds, hunt who it wants. Tethered as I am, I envy the sleek hunter.

Like a shot, the eagle lifts off the ground and flies straight into me. The next instant I lift off the ground into the air, the ground becoming farther and smaller every second.

Soul traveler? The eagle’s consciousness prods at me.

Are you talking to me? I ask, barely it. I’m not sure what is happening, but I seem to be piggybacking on the eagle. It is strangely exhilarating.

I’m a familiar, can sense souls.

You’re from the coven? Excitement bubbles within me.

My witch is a member of the coven, the eagle corrects as she soars in ever-expanding circles above the property. A niggling pain, like a headache, nags at my consciousness, growing stronger the higher we fly.

Can you enter the property, there is a man who I need to… meet, I say.

She hesitates. I can take you but there is a price.